With the holidays in full gear, my college children will be coming home for Christmas break. In just few days, I’ll have half a dozen children under my roof again! Praise God! I’ll also have mounds and mounds of never ending laundry! Praise God! I know this reaction is quite different from what is expected. . .but I’ve humbly learned to sort, wash, fold, and love the art of doing laundry.
While working as an RN in a Children’s cardiovascular unit, I was assigned to care for a patient who was airlifted from a neighboring state to be placed on heart-lung bypass. This beautiful 10-year old girl was healthy a week prior to her admission. She was diagnosed with an aggressive strain of influenza that relentlessly weakened her respiratory system. While caring for her, I would have conversations with her parents, particularly her mother. At first (and appropriately) they revolved around numbers, machines, fluids, ventilator readings, monitors, alarms, and vital signs. As days passed, our conversations still revolved around her daughter’s health, however, she became more comfortable speaking about other topics.
One evening, I remember telling her that when I got off work and returned home, I would have a tremendous amount of laundry to do. At the time, my children wore uniforms to school and were involved in various activities—church youth groups, soccer, gymnastics, basketball, track, cross country, Boys Scouts, Girl Scouts, piano, and football. I told her I dreaded opening the laundry room to see my hampers greeting me with overflowing dirty clothes. She paused momentarily and slowly looked at the flashing numbers on the monitors while listening to th sounds of the machines working, pumping, humming. After a few minutes of silence, she looked at me and said, “I would love to do Sophie’s laundry again.” In that brief moment I realized how mundane yet precious laundry is.
Doing laundry for your loved ones and children is a normal task. That is what is so beautiful about it. It means that they are functioning, playing, eating, running, smiling, laughing, and living life. Children soil their clothes because they are healthy and alive! Not washing their clothes means a certain normalcy in the household world is missing.
When I got home from work that evening, I walked into my laundry room and smiled at the hampers bursting with dirty jerseys, socks, and ketchup stained uniform shorts. I grabbed a pile of dirty clothes in my arms and squeezed it and thanked God for laundry, normalcy, and six healthy beautiful children. The next day I couldn’t wait to return to work to tell Sophie’s mom how her words and thoughts on laundry completely changed my mindset and dread of conquering the task of daily laundry.
As I walked into the cardiovascular unit, there was increased activity and commotion with an unusually large number of people around Sophie’s bedside. I quickly made my way to the group of medical personnel and immediately noticed the display of the numbers on the machines and monitors that were blank. I turned to the charge nurse and, with tears filling her eyes, she whispered to me that Sophie had just died. I was stunned. I couldn’t speak or move. I stood completely frozen as I watched Sophie’s mother speak sweetly and softly to her child while caressing her face and body. The scene is forever imprinted in my brain.
With the number of hospital staff, chaplain, ministers, and family members, I was unable to speak to Sophie’s mom that evening. I wanted to hug her and thank her for opening my eyes and heart to appreciate the normalcy of everyday living and for teaching me to be thankful while finding beauty in things that seem mundane and burdensome. I’ve changed my perspective and have learned to be grateful and not complain when piles of dirty clothes away me every day or when carpooling seems endless. I’m grateful for runny noses, stomach bugs, sprained ankles, colds, fevers, and sore throats—for none of these are life threatening and each will eventually run its course.
Although this happened years ago, I continue to think about and pray for Sophie and her mom. It was a tragic illness and I feel a deep sadness each time I remember her mom will never have the chance to do Sophie’s laundry again.